Devastating. Unbelievable. Unhappy. Disturbing. Confused.

Those are a few of the words sixth-graders at Mesa's Stevenson Elementary School expressed Tuesday after viewing an eight-minute documentary about the terrorist attacks on American soil 10 years ago.

Teachers at the school, knowing many stories would arise and be discussed this week, put together the video and discussion time to give students a chance to express their feelings and ask questions about the Sept. 11, 2001, events in a safe environment. It was an option provided to all classes, but not mandated.

I was invited to sit in with a class. My own interest stems from the fact that my son was born the year after 9/11, but is at an age now where he asks questions about everything and wants to know "why." I was hoping to glean some tips from the staff, as well as from the students.

So, how do you talk to kids about the 10th anniversary of that day when many of them were too young to remember - or were not even born yet?

As the students watched the video, the commentary provided a timeline of that day - from the first plane hitting the first tower through the collapse of the second tower, as well as the attack on the Pentagon and the fate of Flight 93.

Often, counselors say, sticking to the facts is a helpful way to present difficult information to children. And be prepared to answer questions.

This particular group was older than my son, and very attentive to the video. Their questions after the video may be the same ones other parents will face: "Why did they let them on a plane with razor blades?" "Why did they try to scare America?" "What if they try to do it again?"

Like other uncontrollable events, counselors say to be honest, and don't make lofty promises - such as saying it won't happen again. But it is wise to reassure them that everything is being done to try and protect them.

The video the Stevenson students viewed ended with images of U.S. soldiers who continue to fight terrorism across the world to keep us all safe.

That knowledge evoked another reaction, this one from me: Pride.

Donna Killoughey Bird, whose husband, Gary, was the only Arizona resident to die when the World Trade Center towers collapsed, said she hopes parents can build strong roots in their children when they talk about that day, and that when the unthinkable happens, they have a support system surrounding them.

"I want to show them they're grounded in something that is love," she told me this week. "That they're like the roots of a tree."

"My roots took hold when the winds were at their worst," she said of her loss. "That was love from him (Gary) and my children and my faith and the community that came around me."

• Michelle Reese covers education for the Tribune and blogs about motherhood and family issues at Contact her at (480) 898-6549 or

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